Day 262: The Creatures of Prometheus, Ritterballett

BeethovenCD67The Creatures of Prometheus?

The heck is that?

Or, the heck are they?

I swear, the titles of Beethoven’s compositions are getting truly interesting, if not bizarre.

I’ll let my fingers do the Googling to find out what this 19-track CD is all about.

Here’s what its entry on Wikipedia has to say:

The Creatures of Prometheus (German: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus), Op. 43, is a ballet composed in 1801 by Ludwig van Beethoven following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò. The ballet premiered on 28 March 1801 at the Burgtheater in Vienna and was given 28 performances.

The overture to the ballet is part of the concert repertoire. Beethoven based the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations (piano) on the main theme of the last movement of the ballet.

A ballet. That means no singing, right?

According to the back of the CD sleeve, these are the performers on today’s CD:

Tracks 1-11

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
David Zinman conductor

Tracks 12-19

Staatskapelle Berlin
Gunther Herbig conductor

The music is excellent.

Yet, I cannot figure out what the creatures of Prometheus are. Or why that is this ballet’s title.

And why have a ballet called “The Creatures of Prometheus,” anyway? Sounds kind of like dancing to The Creature From the Black Lagoon to me.

But what do I know?

Beethoven was 31 when he composed this delightful ballet.

That’s what I know.

Track 3 (“Maestoso andante – Adagio – Andante quasi allegretto”) is beautiful. Nice harp playing. Beautiful melody. A very fine piece of music using instruments I haven’t heard much of so far.

The second part of today’s CD is Continue reading

Day 205: A Mixed Bag

BeethovenCD10Today’s CD features three compositions by three different sets of performers, three different orchestras, and three different conductors.

Triple Concerto in C Op. 56 features:

Yefim Bronfman piano
Gil Shaham violin
Truls Mork cello
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich

This is a brash, rich composition with lots of dynamics, as well as nice spaces for soloists to solo. Of special interest was Movement II (“Largo”), which gave pianist Yefim Bronfman time to shine. It’s a slower piece. But the juxtaposition of the piano with the violin is intriguing.

The Rondo of Movement III is my favorite, though. I just love it when musicians play Classical music briskly.

Piano Concerto in E Flat Wo04 features:

Martin Galling piano
Berliner Symphoniker
Carl-August Bunte conductor

This is an interesting piece of music. Different from anything else I’ve heard. More horns, for one thing. A different recording of an orchestra. The sound is slightly different, especially in the piano pieces.

Overall, very nice. Bouncy. Sounds like Baroque music in some respects, which may be expected given that it was composed in the late 1700s.

Rondo in B Flat Wo06 for piano and orchestra features:

Walter Klien piano
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Jerzy Semkow conductor

This is a strange little composition. Hard to describe it. Pleasant. Interesting piano sound.

Overall, this CD is filled with great performances. But the compositions aren’t my favorites.

Day 204: Violin Concerto + Romances for Violin and Orchestra

BeethovenCD9Beethoven’s violin concertos appear to be just as dynamic and melodic as his piano concertos.

In fact, there’s a tremendous melody in Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) of Violin Concerto in D Op. 61.

At about 5:40 or so into Movement I there’s a gentle, soft melody line. It’s repeated throughout the movement and comes back forcefully at about the 8:45 mark. That’s when the melody is so striking that it sounds contemporary. Like if John Williams or Howard Shore wrote it for a blockbuster movie. And then again at the 15:00 mark. It’s a very beautiful movement.

I love a good melody. And that’s likely why nothing from Haydn stuck with me. I didn’t grasp a single melody from Haydn’s music.

That’s not to say Haydn’s music was bad, or that I’m a dolt. It just means I notice more melody in Bethoven’s music.

Here’s are the players on today’s CD:

Christian Tetzlaff violin
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
David Zinman conductor

Christian Tetzlaff is superb. Very Continue reading

Day 203: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 & Piano Concerto in D

BeethovenCD8Yesterday, I thought I was done with Beethoven’s piano concertos.

Apparently not.

There are a few more to go, thankfully.

Today’s CD features two different pianists and two different orchestras.

From its entry on Wikipedia, Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Op. 58:

…was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert of the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony were premiered in that same concert. However, the public premiere was not until 22 December 1808 in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien. Beethoven again took the stage as soloist. This was part of a marathon concert which saw Beethoven’s last appearance as a soloist with orchestra, as well as the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph.

A review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung states that “[this concerto] is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever”. However, after its first performance, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn. Today, the work is widely performed and recorded, and is considered to be one of the central works of the piano concerto literature.

Beethoven was 37.

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Op. 58 features: Continue reading

Day 202: Beethoven Piano Concertos 3 & 5

BeethovenCD7More wonderfulness from L.V. Beethoven.

And from Brilliant Classics.

And from Yefim Bronfman piano,
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, and
David Zinman conductor

Beethoven Piano Concert No. 3 in C Minor Op. 37 is another tour de force for pianist Yefim Bronfman. According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800 and was first performed on 5 April 1803, with the composer as soloist. The year for which the concerto was composed (1800) has however been questioned by contemporary musicologists. It was published in 1804. During that same performance, the Second Symphony and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also premiered. The composition was dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. The first primary theme is reminiscent of that of Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto.

Movement I (“Allegro con brio”) of Op. 37 is an amazing composition. Dynamics up the yin-yang. Loud-soft, loud-soft. Ivory tinkling down to a whisper, and then back up again to pounding crescendo, some of which reminded of the soundtrack to an old-time (silent) movie. When the villain would show up on screen, the piano would play these low-note rumbles that indicated something was afoot. Same here.

Movement II (“Largo”) is precisely the tempo it declares itself to be. It’s about half as fast as the first movement, but very pretty. Lots of dreamy sequences.

Movement III (“Rondo Allegro”) is another wonderful melding of Continue reading

Day 201: Beethoven Piano Concertos No. 1 & No. 2

BeethovenCD6Some parts of Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 1 in C Op. 15 remind me of Chopin - dreamy, ethereal, and very pretty.

Other parts, remind me of something Glenn Gould would play – a dramatic flurry of notes that astound for their speed and complexity, the musical equivalent of one of those tour buses that winds its way along narrow mountain roads with one wheel hanging over the precipice.

There’s also a bit of Rachmaninoff‘s brazen complexity in this music. It reminds me of the movie Shine in which pianist David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush) suffers a mental breakdown during a competition at which he plays the “Rach 3″ (Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto).

And that’s just in the first movement (“Allegro con brio”).

Now’s a good time to bring back the link to Wikipedia’s Tempo and Mood Markings entry.

Movement II (“Largo”) brings it down, retards the pace a bit, makes it more ponderous, give listeners a chance to recover from the con-brio onslaught of Movement I.

Movement III (“Rondo: Allegro scherzando”) ramps it back up again. Its tempo and mood markings indicate this is to be played briskly and playfully. And it is that. In spades.

I hate to sound like a moron. But I had no idea Beethoven was this gifted. These compositions rock me back in my chair. I’m astounded.

I keep waiting to find a favorite. But they’ve all been favorites. I’d listen to everything I’ve heard so far again. And again. It’s perfect music as Continue reading